If you read my three keys, I thought NMSU really only accomplished one of them and that was get it inside and feed Bhullar. Otherwise Denver's 8 made 3s, NMSU's 18 turnovers and a weird rotation after Watson's return to the lineup were the three big take aways for me. Takes some luster off the La. Tech game, but both teams will still need it with Denver now two back of La Tech with NMSU a possible tiebreaker.
New Mexico State nearly erased a late 10-point deficit, but the Aggies fell 66-60 at Denver on Saturday in a game that should decide the No. 2 seed in the Western Athletic Conference.
The Aggies fell to 19-10 and 12-4 in the WAC, falling behind the 14-2 Pioneers. NMSU trailed by 10 with just over six minutes to play. The Aggies closed to within one, but couldn’t end Denver’s win streak, which was extended to eight.
“We learned that it’s not over until it’s over in the UTEP game,” Aggies coach Marvin Menzies said. “It was a one-point game but we didn’t get a good look at the basket. It’s where we have to have leadership on the floor.”
A day after his suspension was officially lifted, NMSU senior Tyrone Watson joined the Aggies in the starting lineup, finishing with 10 points and five assists in 38 minutes.
Watson knocked down a pair of free throws to put NMSU up 34-27 as the Aggies extended a one-point halftime lead to a seven-point advantage.
But Denver’s methodical attack and NMSU’s carelessness with the basketball contributed to a 15-0 Denver run that put the Pioneers up 52-42 with 6:37 to play. NMSU committed five straight turnovers during the run. Denver scored 27 points off 18 NMSU turnovers.
“It’s disappointing,” Menzies said. “We knew that if we take care of the ball, there is a good chance to win the game — 18 turnovers is just not acceptable.”
DU went up 48-42 with 7:21 to play as Denver shot 50 percent in the second half, adding lay ups to a 8-for-14 (57.1 percent) effort from the 3-point line after shooting 3-for-18 from 3-point range in an Aggies win in Las Cruces.
“It’s one thing to not be scoring if they aren’t either but they shot the ball so well,” Menzies said. “We knew they would be better at home but didn’t think they would shoot 57 percent from 3.”
NMSU shot 47.8 percent from the field in the first half and finished 48.8 percent for the game but the Aggies went without a field goal for nearly nine minutes. Daniel Mullings struggled offensively, but he scored six straight points to make it a four-point game and Bandja Sy hit the Aggies’ first 3-point attempt of the game to make it 55-54 with 1:55 left. Forced to pressure full court, the Aggies gambled and left Chase Hallam alone for an open triple that extended the lead to 60-54 with 50 seconds left.
Sy led the Aggies with 21 points and 11 rebounds and Sim Bhullar scored 17 points. Mullings finished with eight points and seven turnovers.
“I know the guys wanted to beat them twice and make a statement,” Menzies said. “Obviously it’s a sad lockerroom. We have two games left, luckily both are at home.”